In a lot of ways, millions of users have found Twitter as a useful tool. Take journalists, for example. According to a recent survey, 37 percent of journalists said they are on Twitter. It’s no longer a small tech company that is troubled by servers being down (keeping fingers crossed). Now your non-techie friends are using it. It’s referenced in commercials. It’s mainstream.

However, Twitter’s challenge is in helping new users see the social tool’s usefulness and getting them hooked. A big part of this is connecting new users with great people to follow, as recently attempted in Twitter’s homepage redesign. The early followers are crucial in determining whether a user gets hooked or not (a birdy from Twitter once told me). But for a lot of new users that are unfamiliar with the Twitterverse, it takes time to learn its etiquette.

So to help new and current users alike, here are a few things to ponder, many of which, of course, are debatable and are different depending on your purpose. The big take-away to consider is community. (The examples I use are not all necessarily bad ones, they are simply to illustrate the points). And this is by no means complete, and I would love your thoughts in the comments.

1. Thou Shalt Give Credit: RT, via, ht.

Giving credit is an important part of the Twitter community. It enables your followers see who you’re keeping up with, and exposes them to potentially great new tweeps to follow. However, there are multiple ways of giving credit, depending on how you are tweeting it. Also, as Alexander Howard pointed out that not giving credit and just copy and pasting is a violation of the terms of service.

  • Retweet (Twitter’s function or RT): This is used if you want to repost something word for word that another person has already tweeted. Twitter has a built in function that gives the original poster credit, and so you don’t have to worry about the attribution. However, like many users, sometimes you want to put your own spin on the tweet and so you rewrite it. If you rewrite it, do not use the RT. I think most would assume it is word for word from the previous poster.
  • Via: A lot of people will simply rewrite a tweet and put “via @lavrusik” at the end to give credit. The misuse here is that many people often are taking the tweet word-for-word and reposting it. Really, that’s a retweet. Via should be used if you have changed the tweet to your own liking.
  • HT: Some people tweet things that they either “heard” or read somewhere and they want to give them credit. So they use HT (heard through or hat tip). It’s not as common, but I used it when someone points me to something I want to share in a conversation or chat that we had.

2. Thou Shalt Not Self Promote Excessively

It’s alright to promote something that you’re affiliated with every now and then, but if that’s all you’re posting then it becomes spammy. It goes back to the earlier point of taking part in the community, being resourceful, engaging people, etc. Sure, Twitter has been labeled as a micro-blog, but even with regular blogs people will only read you if you have something interesting to say or some insight or expertise to offer.

Of course, depending on your occupation or what you tweet some people may expect a certain extent of self-promotion. After all, if you’re a blogger or journalist for a specific news org, there’s a good chance that people follow you because of what you write. Some people will distinguish these tweets with a “New Post:” at the beginning. Again, not saying don’t do it at all, but just watch how often you’re doing it. If you over do it, you’ll drive people away. This example below is okay to do from Dan Schawbel, but the key is to not do it excessively.

3. Thou Shalt Link Appropriately

This might seem obvious, but a lot of times I see people that basically are citing some piece of information without linking to the article. If you’ve linked once to an article in a conversation, then you don’t have to do it every time. But remember that you are sharing with a network of folks, many of whom might want to get more information on the topic you’re tweeting about.

Sometimes it is unnecessary because you are tweeting something original or “reporting” a piece of information to your followers. In this case, there might not be a link to share. It’s okay to mix it up, but just stop to think if your followers can get more information on this topic and where.

Also, please use a shortened URL. Even when a tweet is the appropriate size, shorten the URL for the people who may want to retweet you.

4. Thou Shalt Respond to Your Followers

It is courteous to respond to those that send you direct messages or replies (unless it is spam, of course). I know that some people have a lot of followers and say they simply do not have time to respond to all the people that tweet them, but when you don’t respond it shows a lack of community interest. If you’re just blasting stuff out, then you’re no better than a spammer. Stop and talk to your community.

It reminds me of Craig from the “Twouble with Twitters” video who says that he doesn’t care about what others are tweeting, but that he does want others to care care about what he’s tweeting. Don’t be Craig. Respond to those that engage you, and you’ll find meaningful connections.

5. Thou Shalt be Considerate of Replying vs. DMing

There are simply some things that are meant for the public sphere and for the private sphere. To decide when to reply to someone or direct message them, stop and think, “Is this something that I want other people to know and would the person I am replying be okay with me messaging them something publicly?” It takes some common sense. If someone direct messaged you, don’t @ them publicly. Direct message them back.

Sure we don’t always have an option to direct message people (because they aren’t following you), but if you can’t direct message them and you want to contact them about something that should be private then don’t message them at all or find a separate way to contact them.

A common sense example: You meet with someone for a job interview and you @ reply them to thank them. Perhaps a private message would have been more appropriate considering many factors that could be involved (other candidates being interviewed, a current employee you may be replacing, etc.) Also, you should always consider what might be a message that is considered TMI.

6. Thou Shalt Make Clear Voice vs. Headline

This is similar to giving credit. If you are going to post an article and you are simply grabbing the headline and linking to it, then give it credit by putting it in quotes. Otherwise, make sure it is obvious what is the headline and what is your own opinion.

In general, if I am using the exact headline, I put it in quotes. Sometimes I make it clear what is my own take on something by putting it after the link and even in some cases distinguishing it with a “Me: Doesn’t make sense.” In a lot of ways this doesn’t matter and a lot of people on Twitter have a very distinct voice in everything they tweet, but that takes time. Someone who does this well (separating voice and attributing content) is journalism professor Jay Rosen:

7. Thou Shalt Follow Those Who Add Value

Don’t follow people just to get more followers. Ultimately, the more people you follow, the bigger the stream of information and the louder the noise – even with filtering tools and Twitter lists. The best filter against the noise is you, so make sure that who you follow adds value. I’ve battled this and have gotten in trouble for it, but I think that it’s okay to not follow your friends back (they just might hate for it) just because they are your friends. Sometimes your friends just might not be tweeting about what you find interesting (celebrity gossip, breakfast, we all have a list of things).

This is the difference between Twitter and Facebook. Facebook is for your friends, and Twitter is centered around people who you share common interests with. It’s a way for you to consume and share information. A way for you to connect with new like-minded people, and engage in heated debates and conversations. This is why Twitter calls the connections “followers” not “friends.” The difference is grand. This same concept applies to co-workers and acquaintances. My exception is my significant other.

8. Thou Shalt Not Pitch Inappropriately

Pitching is similar to self-promotion but deserves some extra attention. Twitter used to have a lot more spammer accounts that were responsible for only pitching products through replies to users. The site has become much better at fighting its spam problem, which is great. However, there are some companies or even individual accounts that do this from time to time. Users and company accounts should be careful because people can quickly become turned off.

I think that pitching can be effective when you are being resourceful to a person that might be looking for a specific product or a place to purchase a certain gadget, etc. But because a lot of this is done quickly without much strategy, users often feel spammed.

9. #Thou #Shalt #Not #Hashtag #Every #Word

Hashtags are meant to be helpful to other users who want to find tweets around a similar topic through Twitter Search. Some users, however, think that if they use a hashtag for every word they will get more exposure because their tweet will be more likely to show up in search. Considering that Twitter now showcases the popular tweets, this isn’t really true and I am unconvinced that it was ever true.

Also, it simply makes your tweets hard to read. Use hashtags when it makes sense (conference hashtag, breaking news event, etc.). It should still be easy for a reader to read what you’re saying. There are times, however, when someone is at an event and tweeting, but doesn’t use a hashtag when it could be useful for users.

10. Thou Shalt Not Retweet Themselves

Believe it or not, I’ve seen this done. People who actually retweet something they posted. I think it is okay to share something twice, but I would try to avoid and would space the two tweets out. Generally, people do this with self-promotion, which we need to be even more careful about. In general, if you are going to tweet something twice it should be because you are correcting an earlier tweet or got a link wrong. Don’t do it just because you want more clicks.

What Missing? What would you include?

Update: Suggestions From the Twitterverse:

1. Thou Shalt not pass on unverified information for fact. – Jay Rosen. This is how false information and reports often spread on Twitter.

2. Thou shalt not use auto direct messages – they are not personal! – Sue Llewellyn. This is a great point. It makes you seem like a robot and anything automated doesn’t exactly come of as being genuine.

3. Thou shalt fill out their profile and add an avatar. – Alex Howard. This might seem like common sense, but a lot of people still don’t have their whole profile filled out. This makes it harder for people to find you and connect with you. Also, having a filled out profile means more followers.

4. Thou shalt not use a Twitterfeed. – Alex Howard. Similar point as auto DMs. Also, sometimes words will get cut off and “assistance” will become “ass…” in your tweet because of the automation.

5. Thou shalt not use auto-follow tools.Daniel Honigman. This ties into following those that add value. Automation tools will have you following bots.

6. Thou shalt know when 140 characters is just not enough. – Josh Stearns. If you can’t say it in 140 characters, sometimes the old-fashioned blog (or a Tumblog) may be the better option.

7. Thou shalt connect other social tools to the Twitter account carefully. – Chip Oglesby. Again, be careful with linking anything that is automated and floods your stream with updates from other services. You should have control over when you post your Foursquare checkins, for example.

8. “Don’t be obnoxious with name dropping, #ff sparingly and tell us why we should follow” that person. – Martin Beck. The most effective follow friday recommendations are those that explain why we should follow that person.

9. “Thou shalt put unedited streams live on the air and not expect dubious results.” – Scott Leadingham. This of course is more for news outlets.

10. Thou shalt not call yourself a “social media expert” just because you use Twitter. – Scott Leadingham. Guru is just as bad.

11. “Thou shalt not undervalue the listening aspect of social media – nothing says “don’t get it” like anchors, reporters, politicos, celebs, or any other brands on Twitter that chose to only follow a handful after being followed by thousands!” – Victor Hernandez. Sometimes we just need to stop to listen and observe social media. You’ll learn a lot.

12. Thou shalt be considerate of live tweeting events and consider other tools – Adam Glenn. There are better tools for covering something live, such as CoverItLive. Perhaps just tweeting a link to where you will be live blogging on an event and letting people decide, rather than flooding their stream.

107 thoughts on “10 Commandments of Twitter Etiquette”

  1. Great list, Vadim! Esp love your point about the take-away being community.

    I'm going to take #6 one step further (maybe this isn't etiquette? my own pet peeve? :)): Instead of JUST tweeting a headline, please DO add your own comments with it. Why do you find this article/site/link interesting and worth sending to your followers? I'm more likely to click thru if you give me a little context.

    – Vanessa

  2. That's a very good point, Vanessa. I think that a lot of times hearing what you have to say about it makes it all the more interesting. It's your own original take on the piece.

  3. Very useful list, thanks very much. May I also add a plea for people to stop sending Auto DMs. They're not personal, they're rarely useful, they're extremely irritating and they almost always fall into the Excessive Self-Promotion category.

  4. Great post Vadim. I think you covered everything I would have wanted a Twitter newbie to hear. I especially like #2. There is a delicate balance that needs to be maintained, but isn't always clear to new Twitter users (or some seasoned ones!). One point for #9 – I use hashtags for fun sometimes, not every word, but not useful to search either. #greatpost 🙂

  5. Hey, fun is good. I am more so pointing to those that are doing it seriously and using far too many hashtags because they think it will be useful.

  6. The easiest way is to use a third-party app to update on Twitter, like TweetDeck or Hootsuite, which make shortening links very easy to do.

  7. Pet peeve: To me, thanking people for their RT is unecessary, but I get it. What I don't get is people thanking for RT but adding a period in from of the first @name. That's just outrageously obnoxious. It's like saying, “Hey everyone else who hasn't RTed me yet, look at me, I'm thanking these people for their RTs, this is just a reminder that you should RT me too.” Sometimes those people have initially even DMed me asking me to RT them. This combo of behavior is totally unacceptable. But I guess that would go under the category “thou shall not self promote excessively.”

  8. I'd add, and this fits some of the previous comments, “Be human, people like to follow people, not 'bots” and “Thou shalt not follow any Twitter “Rules” too closely” or people will never enjoy the ride.

  9. Good post. For me it's tricky, because I believe Twitter is a personal medium, and telling other people how to use it doesn't really make sense because we can always unfollow. BUT you've hit on a lot of the things that will make me unfollow somebody, even when they are a person I think has a lot of interesting things to say. I especially love your distinction between RT and via. I think some Twitter clients misuse via and it's really frustrating for the reasons you describe and also because people usually put the via at the end. With a RT at the beginning of a Tweet, if I already follow the person being retweeted I can more easily skip the Tweet.

    One of my pet peeves is Excessive Use of Acronyms or EUA ;), jargon or inside jokes that mean something to only about two other people If you are really only interested in reaching a small audience that knows all your jargon and acronyms, go ahead. But if you want a broader audience, keep in mind we don't all know what in the heck you are talking about, and it's really annoying to try to decipher. I mean obviously sometimes with only 140 characters you need to use acronyms and if I'm really interested I'll use the Google, but I try to minimize them myself when they aren't widely known.

    I'll also totally second the “fill out the profile” advise. I tell my students that there is no way I'm just going to randomly follow back some random person I know nothing at all about.

  10. I don't think a retweet does necessarily mean an endorsement, though that is often how it comes off. So there is a perception of that. However, sometimes you are simply trying to spread the message or news about something, doesn't mean you necessarily “endorse” the killing of 20 something people in Iraq, for example.

  11. Great post, Vadim (and all contributors). I'm interested in feedback on one point. My practice (and I think it's pretty widespread) is that I use RT when I am using the person's exact words but condensing them. So in reading or RT'ing, I see RT as valid if I'm cutting a word or phrase or abbreviating, but otherwise using the exact words and being faithful to the meaning. I use via if I'm rewriting, introducing my words, or just using the link with my own comment. Alex seemed to indicate that condensation isn't OK with an RT. Others' thoughts on this?

  12. I tend to agree and side with you on this one. Sometimes you need to cut a word to be able to RT it, but you didn't really change the meaning of it. It's still not being exactly honest, which is what I think Alex is getting at.

    Sometimes to distinguish a change I made, i put the RT at the end of the message, instead the beginning. Not sure if that does the trick or if people understand the intent there.

  13. There is no right or wrong way to use twitter. If you don't like how someone else uses it, then don't follow them.

    #andilikewritingstupidhashtags #itskindoffun #youshouldtryit

  14. Love this – captures a lot of good common sense. Two additional things I'd consider: 1) Don't flood the zone — I do this myself sometimes, stop in at an event and without planning liveblogging coverage, just have at it, leaving my followers with dozens of tweets from me on a subject they might or might not be interested in. I've heard multiple suggestions on handling this, but two that might make sense are to have a “YOURID_Live” Twitter account that you can liveblog with and direct interested followers to, and the other is to keep a CoverItLive account handy; it's a great tool, easy to use and fast to set up an event for. 2) Somewhere in this list, is it worth stating plainly that Twitter ettiquette requires you yourself “add value” to the conversation? … But all in all, very nice piece!

  15. Thank you for your comment! Definitely great point on the live tweeting. CoveritLive seems to be the best fix for that. With Twitter, like any other service, you have to consider your audience and community of followers, friends, etc. The people who chose to connect with you and hear what you've got to say. I usually stay away from the live tweeting at events, and let others handle that. But I still will tweet a link to the event, or maybe one profound quote from a talk.

  16. Thanks for the Commandments. Most of them seem sensible. In my brief twitter life, I've experienced some of the frustrating behavior that you've mentioned (automated tweets, excessive hash tags, etc.) but by far the most annoying behavior of some users is that they tweet continually. This may seem odd, I know, but there isn't anyone who I want to hear from 10 times an hour throughout the day. No one is capable of being interesting that often. Ray

  17. Loved these 10 commandments. I got into a twargument (twirmish? twight? twame twar?) with a musician who basically spammed me saying – listen to my music, listen to my music! I @replied (I couldn't DM, b/c he wasn't even following me!) saying – perhaps you need to learn how to use twitter appropriately. And his reply is “I am – I'm using it to promote myself.”

    duh! Thanks for making my point for me, dude!

    I'd also like to add to your 1st commandment – Thou shalt give credit where credit is due – specifically when you are quoting someone! There's a certain celeb – former Idol Judge – need I say more … about 3/4 of her feed is quotes and she NEVER ATTRIBUTES!

    I thought Twitter policed this, but apparently not…

  18. Yeah, that's a bit much, and likely automated or they are simply oversharing. I tweet quite a bit, but usually ends up being once an hour.

  19. Yeah, attribution is huge. It's frustrating when people don't attribute properly and it only makes the person not doing it look bad.

  20. Thou Shalt Not Use StumbleUpon Toolbars. – Maybe I'm the only one they irk, but clicking on a link, seeing that button- and promo-heavy toolbar at the top of the article, and having it shoved in your face that you've been tracked by that person's SU account has started to rub me the wrong way. I am all about metrics, but succeeding on Twitter in the LT is about building equity through sharing good information, subsequently getting that information retweeted, and ultimately creating a network of followers who trust you — not obsessively checking stats and retweet demographics.

    Also, while I'm at it:

    Thou Shalt Not Call Oneself a “Social Media Guru.” – Just don't. I think this one speaks for itself.

  21. Say you are chatting with someone and they tell you about a story. You decide to tweet it, though the person you heard it from hasn't tweeted it. They still told you about it, so you give them a “hat tip,” or a “heard through” for credit.

  22. Oh, gotta add one more:

    Thou shalt not use a dark color sidebar WITH a dark color font. It makes it almost impossible to ready your name or bio. How can I possibly decide if I want to follow you if I can't read your name or your bio?

  23. Great post, Vadim. I'd offer: Thou shalt be selective with tweets. The best people I follow twitter about four to eight times a day and space them out. When I get 10 tweets in a row (“flooding the zone,” as one other commenter aptly called it), it nudges out everyone else (especially on my mobile apps, where only 100 latest tweets are loaded at a time).

  24. On the other hand – I do have an auto DM – and I give people my phone number and tell them to call me if I can support them. And I’ve gotten phone calls – it really makes an impact on people! I’m real. I’m here answering my phone. yep

  25. I very much enjoyed your article. What I don't understand is why some of the most prominent people do not RT people who have submitted some good content. They love to have their material RT'd, but they don't seem to reciprocate.

  26. Please – don't! If you're following your own mentions – Twitter RT function doesn't show up. So I won't know you RTed me, and can't thank you accordingly.

    And why do I want to thank you? Because that promotes you to my followers, just as your RT promoted me to your followers – it's like link love in blogging …

  27. Just because their prominent or famous, doesn't mean they get twitter – perhaps you should tell them to read this blog post 😉

  28. Very helpful, Vadim! As a novice on Twitter, I appreciate your insight on the Twitter “protocol” and being reminded of the community aspect of this tool… Going to keep this in mind!

  29. Well , the view of the passage is totally correct ,your details is really reasonable and you guy give us valuable informative post, I totally agree the standpoint of upstairs. I often surfing on this forum when I m free and I find there are so much good information we can learn in this forum!

  30. As to the first commandment – I always feel it’s kind of cheating when people bury the “RT” at the end. It’s like passing it off as your own until you read all the way. Also, I’d add OH (overheard) which I see more often than HT, although I understand how they’d function different ways.

    And THANK YOU for mentioning that “via” is NOT the same as RT!

  31. Thanks man. I’m a newbie and I needed the heads up. I did skip
    straight to #9, and in all seriousness Western Australian media loves doing

  32. A great list still, even when things seem to easily get outdated during this 'webage'.

    I was wondering whether you could provide us with any insight to the normal follow / unfollow percentages for blog type twitter feeds?

    We recently made a quick analysis on the unfollow percentages for our twitter account (@outsideviewblog) and noticed it being a whopping 55%! We've (me and none of the other contributors to the site) never noticed this type of percentage before in a business or strictly personal context.

    Naturally, we being of the curious sort, we are looking for any reasons for this worrying figure (a new twitter trend, a huge move of 'follow baiters', us messing things up completely, etc.). We even wrote an article on it trying to enlist the web-community to help us find an answer (here:, it has some more info on the statistics).

    If you have any insights on the topic, we would more than appreciate them!

    Jussi P.

  33. A great list still, even when things seem to easily get outdated during this ‘webage’.

    I was wondering whether you could provide us with any insight to the normal follow / unfollow percentages for blog type twitter feeds?

    We recently made a quick analysis on the unfollow percentages for our twitter account (@outsideviewblog) and noticed it being a whopping 55%! We’ve (me and none of the other contributors to the site) never noticed this type of percentage before in a business or strictly personal context.

    Naturally, we being of the curious sort, we are looking for any reasons for this worrying figure (a new twitter trend, a huge move of ‘follow baiters’, us messing things up completely, etc.). We even wrote an article on it trying to enlist the web-community to help us find an answer (here:, it has some more info on the statistics).

    If you have any insights on the topic, we would more than appreciate them!

    Jussi P.

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